Do You Read Self-Published Books Differently?

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I read a novel that was published by a major UK publishing house over the summer, and in the middle of it, I came across a you’re that should’ve been a your. I blinked, but that was about it. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d come across a typo or a small mistake in a traditionally published book, but I can’t remember the titles of any of the other books I found them in, and I wouldn’t have thought any more about this one except for having to come up with a topic for today’s post. As an experiment, I read through the book’s not-so-positive reviews on Amazon.co.uk, but found no mention of this typo. Everyone else had apparently forgotten about it as well.

But there’s no Typo Forgiveness for self-published books, as I’m sure you already know if you’re a self-published author. And there shouldn’t be. What’s interesting though is that the same rule doesn’t seem to apply to all. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that readers read self-published books differently*.

There currently is a very detailed review of one of my books on Amazon that while kind and positive overall, remarks on grammar, specifically that I used ‘… and I‘ when I should’ve used ‘... and me.‘ (Among other things, some of which are genuine mistakes. I have yet to self-publish a perfect book, despite the involvement of editors and proofreaders. If that surprises you, I can only assume you’ve never tried to get 100,000 words you’ve been up to your elbows in for months or years absolutely perfect. And just think: what state would it be in without the involvement of professional polishers? Editing is NOT an option.) The reviewer assumes that this is a mistake that wasn’t caught by me or by my editor.

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But I write my non-fiction like I speak: I want the reader to hear the words in their head in the same way they would if I were there telling them the story of what happened, sat beside them.

So ‘and I’ is not a mistake. It’s a choice.

I can’t convince the reader of that though. The one time I stuck my neck out and tried to—putting a note at the start of my short-lived novel about how despite it being set in the US, I was Irish, and therefore British English was used throughout—I was accused of being rude and defensive. What do you say to a reviewer who says that if a character is in New York they should be saying color in dialogue, not colour, regardless of where the author’s from?

I’ve read a lot of book reviews for both traditionally published and self-published books, and I think there’s generally a big difference between the two (when the readers know the book is self-published). The traditionally published reviews are always reviews, but the self-published ones tend to get more critiques—as if the book had been submitted to the reader in exchange for a manuscript assessment.

The bias isn’t limited to suggested grammar corrections, of which the one above is just a drop in the ocean (and a very nice one—they get much worse than that!). I think self-published books also bear the brunt of what I call The Book I Wanted To Read Syndrome far more than their traditionally published counterparts. The Book I Wanted To Read is when the reviewer tells us about the gap between the actual book and the book they wanted it to be, rather than what they thought of the book itself. Perfectly legitimate if the book implied it was going to be about cupcakes but instead was about banana bread, of course. I mean more like, again, doing a structural edit of the book rather than reviewing it on its own terms.

But here’s the thing: I’m as guilty here as anyone. I admit that I don’t think I can read a self-published book the same way I can read a traditionally-published one.

It’s kind of like watching Strictly Come Dancing (the UK—and original!—version of Dancing With the Stars). At the beginning of the results show, the professional dancers come out and do a routine. I watch this happily, knowing I’ll be entertained and that the dancers know what they’re doing. If one of them does something that looks a bit funny, don’t I immediately assume it was meant to be that way? But when the celebrity partners dance, it’s different. We don’t have the same ‘safe’ feeling that everything is in hand. I watch their faces for clues as to how well it’s going. If there’s a tricky step, I hold my breath for them. Don’t you?

Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, when I read self-published work my brain is set in a different mode. I can’t help it. But then that’s why I don’t review self-published books. I couldn’t be fair.

What do you think? Do you read self-published books differently?

If the answer is yes, why do you think that is? What goes through your mind when you come upon what you view as a mistake in a self-published book? If you’re a self-published author, how do you feel when you read such a thing in one of your reviews? Is there anything we can do to convince readers we’ve made choices, not errors? Take the poll and then add your thoughts in the comments below…

Speaking of editing, I have a couple of guest posts coming up from Robert Doran, whose previous contributions were exceedingly popular. So stay tuned!

Until then, caffeinated wishes

Love, The Drama Queen

*If they know they’re self-published.

66 thoughts on “Do You Read Self-Published Books Differently?

  1. writerlyderv says:

    A couple of points.
    1. That reviewer is wrong. It is “and I.”
    2. I do see more typos in self published books. But this is because, as you’ve mentioned on previous blog posts and in Self Printed, the authors try to edit the work themselves instead of going for an editor.
    3. Self published authors face greater challenges in editing and laying out their books precisely because they are doing it all themselves. I got a self published book to review. It’s a very good book, but the layout is horrific – a wall of text. So I’m going to have a different view of that than I am of a traditionally published book.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I’m wondering though if that self-published book was perfectly laid out (no different to a traditionally published book) and had been through an editor, proofreader, etc. and was, for all intents and purposes, perfect, would you be able to read it without any bias either way…?

    • Mags says:

      Well–it depends if the “and me/and I” is a subject or an object of the sentence. See: http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/i-or-me

      I wasn’t the one who left the review (I wouldn’t do that–if anything, I’d contact the author privately) but it is one of my main pet peeves. The “and I” for an object pronoun is slipping into common usage and it is wrong. Here’s another take on it: http://www.grammar.cl/Notes/Object_Pronouns.htm

      That being said, I have seen this usage in commercially published books as well as self-published ones, and it makes me grind my teeth.

      • marykate77 says:

        Since in neither example is it even remotely unclear what or who she was referring to, why would it upset anyone? Does anyone read with a ‘is it relating to the object or the subject’ in mind? Even if you were a proof reader, the task of each is so dependent on the aim and feel of the particular text, that while you might note it, you would be very familiar with its use or misuse.

        Clarity first, effect second, elegance third and if you must have a fourth, grammar. But to serve the so called rules over and above those other considerations seems pointless to me.

        In this instance, the effect was meant to be chatty, but actually, ‘me’ always sounds less formal, so ‘and I’ gets misused more simply because it sounds posher and people presume it to be correct. Much like the that/which debate.

  2. Thomas Rydder says:

    Hi Catherine,

    I’m sure the majority of folks who are either authors or reviewers will review indies differently than trads. But, it can go both ways. Folks who are entrenched in (and favor) trad publishing, I believe, still have a stigma attached to their eye in regards to indie authors, and tend to blow any little error out of proportion. However, it might also be true that anyone associated with the world of the indie might just do the same to trads, Kind of an underdog mentality, you know? With an army of editors and proofreaders, how DARE they misspell that word. As you say, no book comes out perfect…it’s best to read it for what it is – a product produced by a human. Judge it by it’s merits, not its origin…
    Great article…and treated like I always do…

    Thomas Rydder
    http://thomasrydder.wordpress.com/

  3. Frankie Valente says:

    I don’t think I take that much notice of whether a book is traditionally or self published and I don’t think I review them differently. There is often a gap between downloading and reading that means I don’t even remember how it was published. However, the last two books I read were definitely published professionally and I have to say I noticed loads of shoddy editing. One of which was a Cathy Kelly book – I forget the other. In fact I hardly ever read a book where there isn’t at least one mistake in it, regardless of who published it. I wish I could spot my own mistakes so quickly! I have seen some really caustic reviews on Amazon (thankfully not for my own work) – some of the harshest ones are for books that are available on free download. I have also noticed that American critics tend to be the most severe; I wonder if they teach grammar in a different way to the UK or Ireland that makes them more pernickity.

      • James F. Brown says:

        LOL! I have a friend who was writing a novel set in Namibia (Africa) and was debating whether to spend money to go there for research. After hemming and hawing, he decided to go. He was very surprised to discover they drive on the left side of the road there. Getting that, and other details, correct was well worth the trip expense, he told me.

  4. scantan says:

    I think the extra critical nature of readers reading self-published work could be due to two things:
    1. People at this stage have probably had at least one bad experience with a self-published book and are tarring every self-published book with that experience.
    2. Self-publishing is kind of egotistical. Essentially, it could be read as saying, I’m so good, I don’t need a publisher or editor (I self-publish myself, before people get defensive 🙂 ).

    I think being extra critical could be a little of 1 and a little of 2.

  5. kingmidget says:

    I read them differently because many of the self-published authors I read I’ve “met” through the WordPress community. As a result, I read their stories not just to read, but also with an eye towards spotting things that I would fix for them if given the chance. And the simple reality is that far too many of their efforts have far too many typos. My first novel had too many as well. I haven’t heard any complaints about typos in my second novel, except for some inappropriate translations into Spanish.
    As for the reviewers … self-published books should be reviewed the same way as traditionally published books. We shouldn’t be held to a different standard.

  6. Aaron Saylor says:

    I don’t read them differently. If indies want to be taken seriously as writers, they should also take themselves seriously as editors and proofreaders. I usually find that the indie books that are sloppy on editing are also sloppy on the basics of writing – story structure, dialogue, clarity, cohesion.

    Aaron Saylor
    author of SEWERVILLE

  7. Robert Davies says:

    I have received both kinds of review, and to be honest I think I do view self-published books differently, consciously or not. I think that those of us who grew up pre-internet still have the ingrained notion of traditional publishing being the holy grail for writers – on some level we still think that if someone has been published by a “real” publisher, vetted and honed by all those professionals, then they must be worth it.

    If the reader starts out with that top-down assumption, ie. this book should be good, then they are unpleasantly surprised when it fails to meet expectation. If a book is self-published, on the other hand, believe the common assumption is likely that since anyone can do this, and since the author probably “can’t get a real publisher”, then it’s going to be sub-par. When it turns out to be good, the reader is pleasantly surprised.

    There’s probably a far larger element of “I could do better” when reading self-published work too.

  8. Andrew Toynbee says:

    I wonder if many of the readers of Indie pubbed books are writers or aspiring writers and they are mentally editing as they read…
    Another thought is that a Trad book is the product of a writer, editor(s), beta readers, printers, checkers and many other parts of the army that comprise the publishing house. To criticise (criticize) an anonymous individual may appear pointless, but for an indie publication, there is a very good chance that any critique will reach the ears of those responsible for the error, resulting in a (probable) glow of satisfaction for the picky reader.

  9. Kate Tilton (Froze8) says:

    I actually don’t believe I read self-published books differently. I notice typos in both traditional and self-published work. The big difference is with a self-published book I know I can tell the author about the error and they can fix it. It is much harder to do that with a traditionally published book.

    I do however know many book reviews who will not accept self-published books because of the safe factor you were talking about. It is unfortunate but for most reviewers they have very little time to devote to reading and reviewing (they are full-time employees, parents, ect). Because of the time constraints of life they have to be more selective with the requests they take, and it is easy to cut out self-published books because with self-publishing there is no guarantee that the book has been edited by a professional (although I know many of you do, we all know a traditionally published book HAS to go through editing before publication and that’s not true for self-publishing).

    I think one of the challenges of self-publishing is that you have to work harder to find those reviewers who can give your book a shot. But both sides have there pros and cons. You have to publish your work the way that is best for you and for the book.

  10. elizabethraine says:

    I wish you had added context for the and I/and me thing. I mean both work in different situations. While I understand wanting to tell it as you would tell it, I guess I’m enough of a stickler for grammar that if it were wrong I would also be bothered.
    And while I’m probably more picky when I see mistakes in self published books, I also always notice mistakes in traditional publishing. It’s something that bothers me lately about a lot of new, quickly published YA fiction (starting with the earlier editions of Twilight, but not ending there): a lot of misspellings, lost punctuation, and so on throughout a book. Enough that someone along the editing line should have seen these things before it was published; I mean, one typo, I think we can all forgive that.

  11. olganm says:

    I’m not sure either. I think one of the issues with me is because I spend so much of my time editing, now I can’t help going around editing anything I see (not only books, notes at work, signs, adverts), and I was a little like that before.
    If I read an author I know and find some mistakes I would message them privately to let them know (it doesn’t matter how many people read something, things will always be missed. I had 3 professors check over my PhD and tell me it was clean and free from error and when I was doing my final submission I found 12 mistakes…). Bizarrely enough, I write in Spanish too and it seems many of the complaints and comments on books in Spanish are about the formatting, so go figure!
    I agree with the issue of the book I’d like to read. I’m not sure that’s because it is an indie book (although maybe), but some readers seem to think that you should change the book just because they would prefer it to end in a different way.
    Thanks for your post. I’ll keep an eye on my own reviewing and reading…see if I catch myself at it!

  12. Liana Mir says:

    I said, No, I don’t think so. But that’s not true. No, I don’t. I am a VORACIOUS reader of online content: web serials, fanfiction, professional online publications, ebooks and short stories that have been “published” and/or simply posted by the author, then loads and loads of books from all kinds of publishers, big, small, religious, mainstream, genre, indie. I read them all exactly the same. ANY book that turns my editor’s brain off in favor of the story is fabulous. ANY book that drops me out of the story into editing mode is a problem.

    • Amy Keeley says:

      I got confused and thought, “No, I don’t think so,” meant I read them all the same, so that’s what I put, too. But I really don’t care as long as there isn’t anything dramatically distracting. As long as it’s mostly readable, I’ll read it, trad, indie, fanfic, doesn’t matter.

  13. Karen says:

    I don’t pre-judge self-published books, but I do tend to blame the author for mistakes, even if they’re few an far between and the overall impression is that the book has been properly edited. I wouldn’t blame a traditionally published author for mistakes in her book though. If I apportioned blame at all it would be to the publisher. But there you have it. If you’re a self-published author you ARE the publisher and it’s your job to do that one last proofread that will catch anything that you, your editor and your proofreader previously missed.

    You have to do that final proofread while also making final decisions about everything from cover design to launch strategies and making the tea (and drinking the tea, and washing the tea cup up). It’s not easy (and yes, I have also failed so far to launch a perfect error-free book, in spite of employing others to help).

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      That’s an excellent point Karen. I didn’t blame the author in the trad pubbed book for her typo: I blamed the publishers for letting it slip through their nets. But if she was a self-published author, the buck stops with her and she’d have got the blame (in my eyes). That’s the bottom line I suppose, isn’t it? Because the self-publisher IS the publisher. Even if other professionals are involved, she has overall responsibility.

  14. James F. Brown says:

    I don’t think I read a self-pubbed book any differently. But, since I’m a writer AND editor, I do notice grammer, punctuation, and homonymic errors with a jaundiced eye. This applies to anything I read–books, magazines, etc.

    If it’s an error in a trad-pub book, I think it’s an indication of bad copyediting by the imprint and a failure to do the job expected of them.

    If it’s a self-pubbed book, I think the same, but with sadness that the author didn’t do a good job of throrough editing, either from laziness or (what REALLY saddens me) ignorance of the entire writing/editing/publishing process.

    I don’t mind an occasional typo, since 100 percent perfection is impossible (as a writer, I know that!), but crossing a threshold of egregiously too many errors triggers unnforegiveness in my mind.

  15. Linda Katmarian says:

    I read traditionally published and self-published books with the same eye, but I understand why self-publishing gets beat up. There are a number of self-published authors who put out books with a lot of errors–a lot. I know how difficult it is to catch everything. I’ve learned a lot about self-editing the hard way. On the other hand, I’m pretty surprised by the number of traditionally published books that have errors. Everyone seems to think they can skimp on editing. The next time I publish something, I will be much better prepared for editing and expend the extra time and effort to get it right the first time.

  16. Hollis Hildebrand-Mills says:

    I think it is in our nature to look to standards whether it’s in art/ literature or art/literary review. We seem to need to trust something greater than ourselves- that our opinions don’t really matter. Therefore we are harder on a book or vanity gallery where no greater authority has sanctioned the work.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  17. catherineryanhoward says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments!

    I find it really interesting how many of you would think to contact the author directly about the mistake when the author is self-published (and therefore, usually, quite accessible online). While I admire your generosity though, I have to say that in the case of a non-mistake, i.e. a choice rather than an accident, I’m not sure I would take one of those messages in the spirit in which it was intended! ;-D I’d be interested to hear what other self-published authors think or feel about receiving ‘By the way, there’s a typo in your book’ messages….

    • scantan says:

      My experience with contacting authors, even ones I’ve talked to before has been that they don’t want to hear about typos. Personally, I’d be thrilled to hear about typos, cause I could fix them. Ebooks are a snap to update.

      I think there’s a little of the “my baby” syndrome going on. I’m a programmer, and it’s a well known phenomenon that some programmers get very defensive when you find a bug in their work.

      You have to take the attitude that everyone makes mistakes, and that eliminating them means a better reading experience for anyone that follows, in my opinion.

    • Liana Mir says:

      I’d edit the typo or simply PM back it was a deliberate choice or that’s dialectical, etc. This is SOP in the fandom world, which is where I’m from, and I just fielded just such a message that said vodka should be clear instead of amber. I double-checked my research and told them thank you, but vodka varies in color and within the context should be amber. If it’s a really tiny thing, I’ll often just say thank you without explanation and leave it at that.

    • Aaron Saylor says:

      I can handle being alerted about a typo, but when someone misidentifies a “mistake” that was actually a purposeful choice by me as a writer, I get a little annoyed about that.

  18. Brenda Bigbee says:

    I am a self-published author who writes for a niche audience (Jane Austen fans) and I agree with what you have written. I have four to five betas read all my stories for errors (two who have editing/writing experience) but it is impossible to catch every error every time. And if reviewers find the smallest error they will gleefully point it out. Fortunately, my books get great reviews for being edited, but there are always those that who will trash them for other reasons.

    I am speaking now of “trashing books” for the purpose of (pick a reason). 1) Making your book or your friend’s book seem a better choice. 2) You know the author and don’t happen to like them. 3) You are a reviewer and the power to destroy has gone to your head.

    I had one review that said, “Plot holes you can drive a train through. Story lines dropped like a hot potato…don’t bother spend good cash on it.” The reviewer never listed the plot holes or the story lines dropped. That is because their are none. This is why my books are 400 to 500 pages long, because I DO finish story lines. And, while I write “what if” Jane Austen stories, it is not necessary to suspend good sense to believe my plots.

    I can understand when people just don’t like the plots, but I think they are unkind to criticize the plot because they wanted the story to be more ‘like canon’ (though I warn them up front that it will NOT be) or because they are punishing me for writing a beloved character with different personality traits.

    The book that received the review above has 69 reviews. Of those, 49 are five star and 7 are 4 stars, so apparently most do not agree, thank goodness. I have included this information in order to point out that there are many reasons why people harshly review self-published writers. Some legitimate, some not. It is disheartening to be a writer a lot of the time, even if most people like your work.

    Just my two cents worth.

  19. Erin Brenner (@ebrenner) says:

    Perhaps oddly, I have more tolerance for the occasional typo or grammar gaffe in a self-published book. Traditionally published books have more professionals and more money behind them, so I hold them to a higher standard. (Not that they always meet it.)

    It would be great for self-published books to meet that same standard and I educate as many of my self-publishing clients as possible as to people’s tolerance. But as a reader, I recognize that self-publishers are usually on a shoestring budget.

    That said, too many typos and clunky sentences and I just can’t read the book, no matter how it was published. Life’s too short to read a bad book.

  20. neasha1 says:

    I liked the illustration you usef of Dancing with the Stars. That kinda nailed it dead center. I feel that because someone self-publishes the public automatically thinks, “Who is this person who thinks they can publish a book?” So they immediately are more stringent with their critiques. I know I used proof readers and paid an editor and with all those eyes we still missed some mistakes. Although, once published the only family member who pointed them out was my 90 year old grandfather (in detail). I think the review could go both ways. Not one of my friends or parents that read my finished book pointed out my mistakes. :/

  21. Rich says:

    Until recently my day job was in traditional publishing, and I’ve read so many early manuscripts that I’m really used to seeing typos (in all stages of manuscript) and easily look past them to focus on the story. My only bad experiences with self-published books have been when the formatting is so bad you know the author simply uploaded a Word doc and made no other attempt to format it nicely. When there is bad formatting and abundant typos on every page, that’s when the layout kills the story.

    I consider all questions of correct grammar irrelevant. There is no correct grammar. As one of my old professors said, “as long as communication occurs” you can ignore all rules. And spelling conventions are just that, norms: not indelible laws of the universe.

  22. Danielle says:

    I haven’t read much in the way of self published books. That’s not a choice, I just don’t get time to read much of anything. But for what it’s worth, I didn’t notice any grammatical or spelling problems in Mousetrapped, which I was probably reading with a slight bias as it was the first self published book I had read. Funnily enough though, I don’t think I read your fiction book with ANY bias. I was enjoying it too much to notice any mistakes or structural problems.

    I think for me, I would only ever read a self published book where I had followed the author across a blog or other media and had seen that they write well and edit thoroughly. That filter may buffer me a bit. I’ve seen interesting self published titles and blurbs but then chosen not to read them based on the poor blog writing of the author.

    Finally, when I read your fiction piece I didn’t notice the American/Irish inaccuracies because I’m not American. However if I was reading a book about Australian characters, set in Australia, written by an American, I would probably be quite annoyed to read “Mom” and “color”. Just personal preference.

  23. feltenk says:

    “My take is this: If a book is solid, it’s solid. I don’t much care about how it got glued together.” -Mike Cottrill 🙂

  24. Elle Knowles says:

    I always look for errors no matter what I am reading, but I think I am more critical on self-published books than traditional ones. Maybe it is because we as self-publishers have to responsible for the whole picture. We don’t just write and then hand it over to someone else. The fault lies on us. The mistakes are ours. I am sure my book has plenty of mistakes and errors I have not yet noticed!

  25. sknicholls says:

    I read them the same and I actually prefer to read in the dialect of the author telling the story. To me many traditionally published books come across as a tad contrived because they don’t. I also think that people do read, or at least review, them differently for the most part. I had a few early reviews from people that I didn’t know that were simply a response about the pleasure found in the read. Then I started blogging and many, who knew I was a new self-published author, were kind enough to read and review my book…but I did notice they critiqued it differently, often as if they were critiquing the manuscript, or I should say, at more depth than the early reviewers. Now I am finding people that I don’t know online are following suit. It is sort of weird…like I am being graded by the teacher. 🙂 I do appreciate them all, though, and have learned so much from them.

  26. Jen says:

    I actually think I’m harder on the professionally published books. When I find typos or obvious mistakes, it bothers me more- quite simply Because it’s been through the professional editorial process. It should be cleaner, more “correct”, in my mind.
    Or… maybe I’m just backwards.

  27. Celine (@CelineNyx) says:

    There should be a “No, I’m sure I don’t” option in the poll. I recently read a traditionally published book that needed about three more copy-edit rounds. You can be assured that I’ll point that out in my review.

  28. N P Postlethwaite says:

    I also recently read a published novel and came across a grammatical error that changed the whole meaning of the (long) sentence. Self-published authors are easily criticized for any mistakes in our work, so we have to try a lot harder to ensure our novels are well edited; yet errors still happens in published books under the eyes of a editors but these mistakes seem to be skated over. Perhaps as self published novels are more marketed on social media by their authors they are more open to criticism? To be honest when I read anything, published or self-published, I treat it with the same open mind, but I do spot the errors!

  29. jlellis2013 says:

    Guilty! But you raise some very good points. I do read self-published fiction differently than traditionally-published works. BUT, I do not necessarily harp on typos or occasional grammatical errors. Long works of fiction have so many pieces that I think it is virtually impossible for any novel to be 100% error free. Traditionally published novels are likely to be reviewed and proofread by more people than self-published novels, even if the self-published writer hires professional help. I think it is excusable for self-published works to have a few more typos and grammatical errors than traditionally-published novels, but only a few. I would say that I have a 5 to 10 typos per entire novel allowance for either a self-published or traditionally published work. Yes, 10 is stretching the limits. But if the novel is otherwise great, I will allow it and I think it is strange for people to trash an otherwise fantastic novel based on a couple of typos. What are we reading for anyway – the story or the grammar and punctuation? If grammar and punctuation are the most important parts of a novel, why don’t we just read grammar primers? or grade one readers? Grammar and punctuation errors should not distract from the experience, but I think we have to have a little bit of tolerance for an amazing novel that is almost perfect.

    But this gets to a sticky point, I do read self-published fiction differently for story. The story has to measure up to traditionally-published fiction, otherwise why would I read it? I can get plenty of free books at the library. Because I have read a lot of self-published work, and, I am sorry to say, some of it does not measure up, I do start with a more critical eye when picking up a self-published novel. Let’s face it, most (but not all and I know it is changing) people still want to be traditionally published, thus the traditional publishers get to pick the stories they think are the absolute best. Thus, in general, a higher percentage of the traditionally published are better stories with better plot development and prose. This is not always true of course. There are many great self-published works out there. And there is a lot of traditionally-published work that is not good, or not to my taste. As a result, I have slightly greater confidence when I start a traditionally-published novel, than when I start a self-published novel. This probably affects how I read it. That said, I also have a greater expectation that a traditionally-published novel might be ponderous and pretentious.

    I think how people read self-published fiction is changing and I think my approach to it will change too as the industry evolves. But I do not think people should get bent out of shape over a few typos.

  30. Heather says:

    I don’t read them differently. I find mistakes in more regular books than in self-published ones (true, though, that I do read more traditionally published books than self-published books). If anything, the self-published books are the ones I look forward to MORE than traditional ones. Usually it’s because I’ve talked with the author before and I’ve gotten excited to see what his/her writing will be like in literature compared to how he/she speaks. Often, I don’t find much of a difference because of how the writing voice seems to connect with the natural voice of a person.

    I think it’s more often with reading any book that I find myself thinking (and hoping) that my writing voice matches what I want it to be or how I speak. You’re not paranoid, people DO read different things differently.

  31. Sher Bowie (@sherbowie) says:

    Because I often read books long after I download them, I read them both the same. I’ve noticed when it comes to small errors, there seems to be an equal amount in both traditional and self-publishing, but anytime I’ve found major issues with grammar and formatting, it turns out to be a self-published work. That said, it’s a small percentage of the polished and professional self-published novels I’ve read.

  32. Emma Calin (@EmmaCalin) says:

    Very interesting article and comments. I too am a self-published and lately, externally edited author. For the most part, reviews I have received for my books have been very positive and not nict-picky but every so often, particularly after a free promo or giveaway one may appear.

    Apart from the issues of proof reading and genuine typos, which I now use an external editor to help eliminate, as a British author myself, I find it very hard to decide on which side of the pond to set my grammar. My stories typically feature British characters, often with travel to the USA and other countries. There are some major areas that upset readers – punctuation conventions and word usage, as well as spelling. I also like to write dialogue as it is spoken – to highlight a character’s personality/education/region etc – and some folk get offended by this too. Granted it may not be grammatically correct but it will be this way specifically in the dialogue to highlight and illuminate my character in more detail.

    I have tried British English, hybrid English (American spelling with British punctuation and grammar) and received negative reviews for both….. Americans seem much less tolerant of British grammar and spelling and have claimed my books to be full spelling mistakes! Maybe Brits see US-grammar more frequently and are aware that if we are reading a book written by an American author it will have American spelling etc – I’m not sure why American readers cannot make the same exceptions for a British author. Perhaps they just don’t realise that there is a difference if they rarely come across written British English.

    I did debate bringing out an American edition and a British edition – I guess in the ‘old days’ a publisher would do this – but with the internet, e-books and print-on-demand such as Amazon Createspace, the physical barriers to accessing books from anywhere in the world are removed.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I face many of the same issues. I think you are 100% right that while we encounter American English all the time, it doesn’t work both ways. I thought initially it would just be spelling differences I’d have to deal with (the extra ‘u’s and so forth) but actually UK English grammar is different to US English grammar, and some US readers take them as mistakes. I did try an American English version, but unless you actually are American I think it’s very hard to get it right. For instance, I could have trunk instead of boot, sidewalk instead of footpath, etc. etc. but then I used the word (or abbreviation) ‘CV’, when in the States it would always be ‘resumé’, and ‘Mum’ instead of ‘Mom’ — and of course, got fried in reviews. On one hand, the US is the biggest e-book market so I think I should gear my books towards them. But then I’m Irish: why shouldn’t I write in my own language? What annoys me really is that some US readers (and I do think it’s a tiny minority) seemingly make no effort to allow for the nationality of the writer, and if it’s not in US English, it’s automatically wrong. The joys of borderless publishing! 😀

  33. Randall Wood says:

    I think that most readers understand that the perfect book is like child-safe plutonium, it never existed and never will. A best effort to make it so is the only thing you can offer; otherwise the book would never be published.

    Done is better than perfect.

    In the back of my books I ask the reader to contact me regarding any mistakes they find, not so much for story but for plot holes and typos. So far the response has been very positive and I thank them by name, if they don’t mind, on my website.
    As for reading self-pubed books differently; guilty as charged. But I feel bad when I find a mistake in a self-pubed book while I smile when I see one in a trade-pubed book.

  34. rjrugroden says:

    It’s true that people read self-published books differently and with a more critical eye than traditionally published books. But there’s an up-side to that:

    1. Reading more critically is healthy for the reader and our culture as a whole. It causes them to think about the craft of writing instead of just saying “Entertain me.” It’s tougher on the writer, but at least there’s something positive being put back into the community.

    2. For some reason, self-published reading makes the reader feel like they have a say in the book. We seem to think the work isn’t yet finished or is immature. The good side of this is it tempts the reader to jump on board with something that is happening, something that is growing and getting better. Even though we don’t actually have a say in what gets written, we feel like we do, and that is a tremendous opportunity to build excitement about the book and a community around it. We feel like the author is listening more to us than some big, unreachable, famous author who doesn’t care.

  35. Dan Perry says:

    Hi Catherine,

    I wrote the review you mentioned in this post. Yes, I do read self-published books a bit differently than traditionally published ones. Similar to what you said with the dancer analogy, I think I scrutinize self-published books more because they don’t have the “social proof” of having passed through the filter of a traditional publisher. As hard as I try not to fall into this trap, I admit that it still affects me. But in both cases, a couple of spelling mistakes are not a big deal to me. It’s only when there are either a lot of mistakes or the consistent misuse of some word or phrase that I get distracted from reading.

    Thanks for clarifying that you misused “and I” intentionally, but the fact that I thought it was a mistake is still important. Either I’m the only person who didn’t realize that you were making a conscious choice, or (and I think this is more likely) your choice confused your audience.

    Assuming more readers than just me were confused, I can think of three solutions:
    1. Put your intentional misuse of words into dialog instead of using them as a narrator. When a character is speaking, I want it to sound natural, so all bets are off with spelling and grammar mistakes.
    2. Clarify your choice in an author’s note. I know you tried doing this with another book and got complaints. I haven’t read that book, but it sounds like the complaints had more to do with the actual words you used than your clarification. While I can’t speak for everyone, I wouldn’t accuse you of being rude or defensive if you simply told me why you chose to use certain words. It’s your book and you’re free to use whatever structure you want, but your audience needs to feel confident that you’re writing that way on purpose. They need to trust you.
    3. Insert even more mistakes as the narrator. This is really hard to pull off, but as long as I have a sense that the author knows what s/he is doing, I’m fine with it. But when there are only a couple of mistakes here and there, or (as I said above) some word or phrase that’s consistently used wrong, they come off as being something that the author overlooked.

    All of that being said, I hesitated to even mention spelling and grammar in my review because the other problems I had with the book were far more important. For example, when you mentioned that you nearly cut off the tip of your thumb but gave no additional details, I was almost shouting “Tell me more!” How painful was it? Did you get stitches? A shot of penicillin? Put a band-aid on it? You could have either removed that statement or expanded it to make it a complete story, but as it was written, I felt let down. If the thumb incident were the only example, I would not have given it a second thought, but similar half-stories occurred throughout the book. That’s why I brought it up in my review.

    I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the reason there were so many incomplete stories in the book was because you were too close to your writing. Of course you know the whole story because you lived it. But I have never met you, so I don’t just “get” some stuff. You have to spell it out more if you want to appeal to a wide audience.

    Please don’t take this as a personal attack. I’ve done the exact same thing many times. Every author of a personal narrative probably has had similar struggles in their writing. I think even an editor can get too close to your writing after they’ve read it a few times. It’s extremely difficult to read your own stories through the eyes of someone who has never met you. The only effective technique I’ve found is to keep showing my writing to new people who aren’t afraid to tell me what they think. Maybe you have some more suggestions or could ask your audience for ideas in another blog entry.

    I’ve been following your blog for a few months and I bought your book partly because I like travel stories, but also because I wanted to support you. I didn’t want to write anything negative because I respect that you chose to see some of the world and write a book about it. And I wouldn’t have written such a long review if I didn’t like your book. But as soon as I started shouting at your book, I felt the need to include my problems with it in my review. I hope I didn’t come off as complaining about the book not being the story I wanted to read. You’re free to write your story however you want; it just needs to be complete.

    Warm regards,

    Dan

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Hi Dan,

      First of all, I hope you don’t think that *I* was attacking *you* as a reviewer or anything — I actually really liked your review (thanks especially for starting out with the ‘stop with the definition of backpacking nonsense’ thing! That drives me cuckoo, especially considering the subtitle AND the blurb. But don’t get me started…!)and I thought it was really fair and balanced, and anything negative you had to say was done so constructively. The same goes for your comment, and I really thank you for that. You just happened to be the author of the most recent example, and conveniently up the top of the page because you’d be voted as helpful.

      The question here is: would you have said the same things if the book was traditionally published? Or is this a moot point, because a traditionally published book would not have the same errors/issues? (BACKPACKED went through a line-by-line copy edit and a proofread, by two different people who work professionally as editors, but as I’ve said above, three different sets of eyes just doesn’t seem to be enough when one is the author.)

      We do have to disagree on one thing though, and that’s what goes in and what stays out. You say that I’m free to write my story however I want, and I am. (I hurt my thumb in a doorjamb in a pub because I was drunk — that’s the entire ‘thumb’ story. If it sounded like there was more to it than that in the book, I can’t imagine why. It certainly wasn’t intention to hint at something interesting and then not mention it again. And I think it your review to refer to the Cafe Lago thing? Well, that’s where we got the food poisoning: that’s why I didn’t use the real name. But anyway, let’s not debate the whole book! ;-D) There’s an interesting comment (either just above or below yours; I’m on my phone so not sure!) that says readers feel they have a ‘say’ in self-published books, that they’re not finished yet or complete (in the readers’ eyes) and so aren’t taken as such, and that’s how I feel when people react negatively to what’s been included and what hasn’t. The book is what it is. The stories that are in it ARE the story and if something is left out or only mentioned in passing, that’s because that’s the way I’ve decided the book’s going to be. Essentially if someone thinks the book is boring, I’d rather take that than someone to say they enjoyed it but they would’ve enjoyed it more if x and y were elaborated on.

      When I read non-fiction, yes, there are times when I say to myself ‘I wish he’d told us more about that…’ but the fact that the author didn’t wouldn’t detract from the book for me (within reason — obviously if it’s supposed to be about football and it turns out to be about hockey, then that’s a serious problem!) because the book is what it is, not what I want it to be.

      Seriously though: I really did appreciate your review, and that you read the book in the first place. And most of all, for inspiring a blog post that got people talking! 😀

  36. T.K. Marnell says:

    I noticed a lot of reviews for my first self-published novel were of the “this wasn’t what I wanted to read” variety–they wanted more romance, they wanted different characters, they wanted a happier ending–but I thought that was due to the sort of people that got their hands on the book. Like most self-publishers, I marketed in low-cost, online-only places like LibraryThing and Goodreads, where reviewers tend to be (a) young, (b) harsh, and (c) writers or aspiring writers themselves.

    Honestly, most people don’t even notice when a book is self-published. If they’re shopping online, they look at the cover image, the description, the stars, and the top reviews. They don’t scroll down the product page looking for the name of the publisher. And if they’re shopping in a bookstore, they glance at the front and back cover, maybe the author bio or sample on the inside jacket, and read the first couple of pages. They don’t analyze the spine looking for the Simon & Shuster logo.

    So I would chalk up the differences in the reviews mostly to different audiences for self-published and traditional titles. And no, there’s nothing we can do about people who raise a stink over misplaced apostrophes, or who take umbrage at “color” spelled with a “u.” Some people just like to tear other people down.

  37. Jim Self says:

    Honestly, when I was younger (naive) I thought that every book on bookstore shelves were “professional quality” and if I didn’t like one, it was just because my taste didn’t suit it. I imagine most people still have that idea. People with REAL jobs get paid REAL salaries to produce those things! It’s kinda like how none of the people who’ve known you for long consider you to be a real writer.

  38. saralitchfield says:

    Ah – wonderful post! This is why I prefer not to know!!! With my editor hat on, it’s hard not to read everything critically and I forget to just relax and read the story for pleasure and take the book on its own terms – not mine. When I know it’s self-published – I wonder who their editor was and watch out for mistakes. In all the books I read before self-publishing exploded if I noticed a typo, I tut-tutted and moved on… Now there are so many free-lancers who used to work for the publishing houses – it’s time to take a step back and try not to think about it – I try not to know! Let’s take everything onto a level playing field – someone wrote something – it was written by a writer with the same resources now as a publishing house… Let’s wonder if we like the content without worrying about how it came to the world! Sara

  39. melissamaygrove says:

    The alter ego me (I write and blog using a pen name) reviews all books the same. If a book has more than a handful of grammatical errors, I comment–regardless of the publishing route the author took. And I’m as quick to chide a big-name-published book for lazy writing and errors as I am a self-published one. In fact, more so, because the big pub houses have (or should have) better resources.

    As far as British English vs American, I have to agree with the reviewer. You should write according to where the character is from, not the author, because even subtle things contribute to characterization. (e.g. A US-born person living in the states is not going to call an elevator a lift, and they would write color, not colour.) Now if you had a British character in the book and we were in their POV, then have THEM say or think in colour. 😉

  40. Jennifer Barricklow says:

    I agree with Karen (about midway up through the comments): I read self-published books with the same eye as traditional books, but I don’t lay blame for errors at the same feet. As an editor, I know that even multiple editing passes won’t prevent the occasional typo or mistake from showing up in the final product, so a couple of slips don’t bother me. However, more than a few errors or careless writing (poor grammar or storytelling) rankle me because there’s no excuse: self-published authors and traditional editors should both know better. I feel sorry for authors of traditional books whose editors let their work appear in such uncomplimentary light, but I feel annoyed at self-published authors who fail to take seriously their role as publisher, which includes hiring editors.

  41. marykate77 says:

    there is a wonderful – or was – reviewer who seems to specialise in stalking Patricia Cornwall with the intent to correct, helpfully, her use of dangling participles. He seems to buy all her books, and I imagine, goes through them all with a red pen. If I were her I would start sending him thank you postcards from my beach house in the Caribbean.

    I think you may be right about the way self-pubbed books are read, but I also think – and it may owe something to the self pubbing revolution – that there has been an increase in nasty reviews in general. More specifically those aimed at running down authors on the basis of their grammar. Twilight may be ‘appalling poor’, I haven’t read it, but to be honest I am fairly sure I could find dozens of books from fifty years ago, twenty years ago or ten years ago and they would be equally appalling. More importantly, from what I have seen lord save me from the grammatically perfect book. A more boring tale I could not imagine reading!

  42. Jack Eason says:

    This comment of yours made me chuckle Catherine, “What do you say to a reviewer who says that if a character is in New York they should be saying color in dialogue, not colour, regardless of where the author’s from?”

    It always amuses me how people who have never written a book in their lives become ‘pedantic critics’. We all write using the language of our own country, not somewhere else. 😉

  43. pigeonweather says:

    Before self-publishing, I hardly ever heard a word about typos (in my decades of working in bookstores) but now it seems like they are suddenly important. I don’t get it. I only read books I find interesting and I’m willing to try anything and I don’t care where they came from.

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